Ben Johnson is the CEO & Founder of Particle41, a development firm that provides businesses with support on application development, data science, and DevOps projects.
Ben is an experienced serial entrepreneur with $30 million raised across his 5 startups and has 20+ years of software development experience.
He is passionate about application modernization and coaching both of his two son’s soccer teams.
What you will learn
- How Particle41 and Ben’s entrepreneurial journey began
- Why making a website that looks simple requires a lot of complexity
- How Artificial Intelligence will impact software development
- Ben’s personal experience with AI and how he uses it
- Ben shares his software development process
- The secrets to avoiding budget blowouts when developing software
- Tool recommendations to help your remote company stay productive
- Why systems and processes are so important for maintaining control
- Inspiring tips for entrepreneurs that are struggling
- Plus loads more!
00:00:05 - 00:00:55
Hi, everyone and welcome to The Jeff Bullas Show. Today, I have with me Ben Johnson. Now, Ben is a CEO and founder of Particle41 and that has an interesting basis in that, it’s named after Niobium which is a metal whose ability to strengthen other metals is unmatched. It is a software development firm that provides businesses with support on application development, data science and development operations projects. Ben is an experienced entrepreneur with $30 million raised across 5 startups and has 20+ years of software development experience, so he knows how to code.
So, welcome to the show, Ben, it's an absolute pleasure and I'm intrigued by how you got to start Particle41 but before we do that, I'd like to know where'd you get the entrepreneurial bug? When did that start?
00:00:56 - 00:03:24
Sure. Well, I appreciate it and I'm really happy to be here talking with you. Serial entrepreneur, I mean even in college, my buddies and I were talking about really creative ideas, writing college. I was working for a .com bubble startup where we got to see, you know, a handful of ideas. But as the .com bubble kind of came to a close in 1999-2000 time frame. I started an online travel agency called One Travel. I think the brand still around today but we were, you know, we were racking and stacking our own hardware. We were, we end up growing that to about 70 million in travel. Sold that company to a parent company that had no cash controls. They ended up running it in the ground in about 15 months. But it was a great, just an awesome venture to figure out how to do this thing on the internet that had traditionally been done over the phone, right? Now I get to order my airline tickets. This was before, just for your listeners to frame this, this is before Southwest Airlines even had an online website, before it existed. This is before Orbits, I think Expedia and Travelocity were around back then. But, you know, this was kind of early days and we were able to integrate with like your kayaks and side steps and this medicine search partners to accelerate our business. So we're doing some new things, but there's a huge opportunity to kind of figure out how the internet works and be a part of how to create that. And from there, I started a travel media company, you know, went to a travel media company and then also did a, you know, after that, did a media company and finance and being part of online advertising, got to really see how that really kind of peaked up the entrepreneurial bug to see how folks were using advertising between like publishers on the web, all these bloggers and advertisers and inter mixing add technology to maximize the value for those advertisers.
00:03:25 - 00:03:33
So you worked into travel media. So what happened after that?
00:03:34 - 00:04:56
So after I did a travel ad network, which was this Vertical Ad Betwork, that company raised a bunch of money, tried to pivot into a full fledged media company. And kind of had a little sputtering. I took that opportunity to start or to work with somebody that we're doing a vertical ad network and finance. So Investing Channel was the company that we created. Cool thing about investing is you can do all these amazing things with a stock ticker, you know, somebody searches a stock ticker, you can know what kind of investor they are and then you can position some of your advertisers with different financial products. So somebody's searching, you know, blue chip stock or high dividend stock, they might be interested in retirement products. They're searching for Apple, you know, Apple stock tips, they might be a retail investor. So we were able to position different advertisers next to that content which helped the content creators. Of course, back then, it was all blogging that was your content creator, but it was able to monetize that blogging content for those content creators.
00:04:57 - 00:05:04
So with your computer science background, obviously, you lean more into the tech side of things, obviously.
00:05:04 - 00:05:12
Very much so, very much online tech, internet in my entrepreneurial attempts.
00:05:12 - 00:05:26
Yeah, So let's leap forward to Particle41. Okay, so tell us about how the inspiration for that came because I think there's a fun story behind that you had a bet with someone and sort of two things happened at the same time.
00:05:26 - 00:07:21
Yeah. So in 2015, my partner and I were starting to, you know, I was just getting calls from my past network. I was doing some consulting and had formed up Particle41 and we started taking on clients and at the same time, a friend of mine called me and said, hey, I want to talk to you about illegal services startup idea and legal services. There's some dinosaurs entrenched in space, some really older companies. And he said, I want to know if your LLC, your Particle41 LLC, is in good standing with the Secretary of State. And if it's not, then you need to come talk to me about a business idea that I have. And sure enough, I didn't know as a small business owner, I didn't know what it took to maintain my relationship between the secretary of State and the small business just started, it just started a year before. And so I talked to him and he realized that there is this issue with businesses, maintaining their corporate compliance. And so we built a startup, called Legal Inc. and I think we started that 2015 of March and in 2018, we sold it to LegalZoom. In the US, LegalZoom are pretty well known brand. And then I stayed on with LegalZoom for four years as they, you know, as I kind of did with my aqui-hire commitment. And in April last year, I left Legalzoom. But at the same time, Particle41 was growing and we were kind of fine tuning our service offering and yeah, so it had kind of an entrepreneurial product run at the same time, we were growing a service business.
00:07:22 - 00:08:36
So as a software development company that the world's moved very much to that, almost everything is imbued and infused with tech. So which works well for software development companies. And the other thing too is generally the CEO, the CEO doesn't really understand how software development happens. It's sort of like a black box because codes never seen by anyone else except the coder, okay, Ben Johnson, the coder, the CTO. So the CTO knows what's in the black box. So you're trying to, so how do you approach that in terms of, how do you reveal what you're going to do and make sense of that to a non coder? Because I'm a non coder and I'm sort of scared of coding, right. I try to do basic back in the 1980s and I wasn't good. So I realized that wasn't my core strength and never went back there again. So how do you communicate with non coders? What you're going to do in the process is because for me, it's very much a hidden dark art coding.
00:08:37 - 00:11:00
Yeah, I think we try to look for, you know, what is the outcome when we're talking to. The more, the higher up the stack, if you will, the CEO, they really are wanting a very direct engagement, they're wanting to influence their business in a way that's very result driven. And so, you know, my job is to say, hey, there's this code, I often kind of pick at my business partners when they, well, let's just make this thing, talk to that thing and this thing, talk to that thing and they kind of ignore, kind of embedded in your question is ignoring the fact that folks need to go mine these details like be kind of coders aren't coders, there's zen gardeners of details, right? This kind of code is like a, you know, it is. It's a detailed garden that needs to be perfectly groomed in order for it to grow right. And so I think that a lot of times executives will talk about it like lego blocks like, oh that thing just snaps onto that thing and everything's kind of this similar unit of work and we just connect them and, you know, Bob's your uncle. But I think what's really going on behind the scenes is all this detail, gardening and grooming to make sure that things are just right. And so my job is usually just to say, okay, what are you trying to accomplish? I'll take care of those details in the most efficient way that the market currently has to offer. So, you know, back when I was doing the travel company in 2000, we were having to rack and stack our own hardware, put together a data center, you know, just really take care of the full stack. Well, now, you just go to AWS, you say, hey, I need to host an application and an hour later, you're fully up and running and live with at least the start of a thing. And so my job is to really hear what the objectives are of the business and of the business leaders figure out which metrics in their business, they're trying to move and then to work with them on solutions and really just take care of the detailed gardening that is start of coding.
00:11:01 - 00:12:03
So the CFO, CEO or whoever is in charge of the project, might be the project manager goes, I want to build a website that allows us to online ordering and we wanna make sure it's easy for the customer. Um So websites are one thing. So, is that the sort of thing you're doing is, this is the outcome I want, I want a website that allows me to do online ordering and I want to measure to make sure that it's working, I want to make it easier for the customer to buy. I want to do an up sell, for example, and I'm sure you have a lot of experience, that sort of thing. So on top of that, the website is one thing. But since the advent of the App store, we now are seeing a lot of people use apps instead of websites. So talk a little bit about the evolution of apps, the apps area and where that's going today because I must, it's easy to use an app and it is to use the website quite often.
00:12:04 - 00:13:56
Sure. I think you are, well, I mean, obviously what has happened is now you have this phone in your pocket, right? The situational, very personal device that apps are very specific pieces of micro functionality, right? I want to talk to my parents, I use Facebook, I want to talk to, I wanna modify a picture, make a picture look better, I have an app for that. I have one that will use AI to spruce up a picture now, right. So I think apps have taken advantage of these situations in life that were unmet or un efficient and, and giving you a very specific use case for that. I want to order food, I have an app for that. But they're still behind these very large companies, you know, the amount of technology that like an Uber or Doordash has had to amass to make it that convenient. That is what we were, that's what we work on, right? The, just making that kind of a service highly available where it's never going down, even though, you know, millions of people are using it on a regular basis. And so, that's why we eventually added the data science part of our service offering and data engineering part of our offering because even dealing with the multitudes of data around an app like that was a huge thing for the business to accomplish. So, yeah, I think of it not necessarily as a website or an app, but as a service and these tech enabled services, you know, the amount of technology they need to effectively run and be profitable is quite tremendous.
00:13:56 - 00:14:45
Yeah, exactly. So making something look simple requires a lot of complexity. Yeah, and so you look at an Uber and you're going, but then you start to see how they upsell you, how they do this, how they track they're going ooh. There's a huge amount of complexity, in other words, the ghost in the machine is working away and there's many ghosts doing lots of things. And I did love your, and I was thinking about it as we talked about apps is that, and it's almost like a micro-task or instead of it's not trying to be, everything is just trying to do one thing really, really well, yeah.
00:14:45 - 00:15:42
I'm also in commerce, right? Like, I have a brand, I think it's Fresh Clean Tees, as the brand, not obviously, but they just make a really, really solid T shirt, of course, you know, that's what they became known for. But I think you even see, to use your app analogy, you even see, some of the commerce folks kind of like trying to edge in the market by being really good at one thing. And I think it's similar to an app, an app needs to be really good at one thing, just like,, you know, some of this micro shopping, like I wanna be really, I want to make the best T shirt or the best pair of socks. And so I think we see that trend where people just want to know, they want that place to go for that one thing and if that one thing is super high quality and very convenient, then they're gonna keep using it.
00:15:43 - 00:17:12
Yeah, you got these go to apps. And we also use apps for just messaging now, so Slack. So then you've got one for project management, Trello and the list goes on and on. So we've got this, you know, I've heard of the term which I totally agree with, instead of Jesus comment where the meek shall inherit the Earth, the geeks shall inherit the Earth is actually the technology take on that, right? And it's true. So the geeks become a new sexy business, you know, holding the holy grail of making complexity simple to the user and basically weaving this zen detailed magic in the background inside a very, very dark room where they sit in big chairs and look at computer screens all the time. So I'm leading to the next question which he did mention. So the hot topic at the moment is AI, especially ChatGPT. So let's lean into that a little bit because it's even impacting the software industry. So I'd be interested in how you see AI impacting and helping software developers like you write better code faster and better. So tell us what you're experiencing.
00:17:13 - 00:20:07
Yeah. Dog had to go out. So we're definitely trying to use ChatGPT to help the process of software development. However, even before ChatGPT, there was this thing we call Monkey Patching and it was, you know, it was developers going out to the internet to find code examples and then developers, new developers would go plug that in. And there's memes galore about this idea of Monkey Patching where people just okay it works and they move on. Of course, this is a horrible software development practice because true understanding and true quality comes from, you know, like we're saying the perfect detail gardening, right? And so Monkey Patching was the euphemism given for this kind of sloppy work of just taking examples and spouting them in. And so I think the same thing, you know, ChatGPT, the negative side of it could be that it would lend itself to a new form of Monkey Patching, which would be just you ask ChatGPT, it gives you a solution and you slide it in and you don't notice that it has now, you know, put a bug in your code or, you know, has, has not elegantly solved the solution. So you still have to have an understanding of every character, every piece of detail within that code. And ChatGPT is certainly, I had a personal experience where I wanted to make something on my public corporate website a little more efficient and a little more elegant. And so I asked ChatGPT a question, I did get an example and then I was able to learn from that example and take it and put it into my code. And so it saved me some time, what it saved me from, if I had done this pre ChatGPT, I would have had to have done, you know, maybe eight or so different Google searches, really understand the different perspectives from each of those Google searches and then combine that answer into something. And so I would have had to kind of do a lot of that research and we're just seeing the ChatGPT can save you from that and get you to the, you know, the core answer a little bit quicker, it's still very important to understand, you know, what it's giving you. It's like I can ask it to write a letter to my wife, but there's when it, when it reads, when my wife reads that she will know that I did not write it. And so, you know, we can ask ChatGPT to do all sorts of things, but we have to be responsible for the end result.
00:20:08 - 00:20:11
Yes. So don't use it as a crutch, just use it as an enabler.
00:20:12 - 00:21:01
I think so, I think it saves research time 100%. It's gonna save research time. I even asked, you know, what are common goals for a company trying to double in size and it gave me a bunch of goals for a company trying to double in size. I thought that was interesting, it's just that I can't use that as my company mission now, right. I can't just turn around and give that to you, here's your goals, right. It still needs to be thought about and, you know, thought about and manipulated and made to, you have to have full understanding of its recommendations.
00:21:02 - 00:22:31
I think everyone's got excited and think that artificial intelligence could do everything. It's really just another tool to help us, I suppose, accelerate our work and do it better. So it's fascinating times, I think where it's gonna be different jobs, they're gonna come out of this that we haven't even thought about. There's going to be different opportunities that are still being created as we speak. I've been reading a lot of reading on AI and we're writing about AI and using AI to help, create content. It's almost overwhelming because there's this explosion of opportunity and apps that are just startups that are actually learning it as well. So, but let's go back to software development. So what's at a very high level, and I know you're a detail guy, but at a very high level, what is the process? So if the project manager for a company comes in and said, we want to do A B and C and we need to develop a tool for that or so, what's your process? So I want to demystify a little bit because I'm a bit scared of if I say, look, I need to develop some software for my business. And I go, I don't understand software. So what's your process to keep it simple and provide comfort to the project manager or the CFO whoever's running it?
00:22:32 - 00:24:20
Sure. The great thing about software being around for as long as it has is there's some great frameworks for helping with that. I would say the first kind of principle here is visualizing, right? If you can do anything to visualize the end result design cannot be understated as an important thing. So if you're designing an app, you need to be able to have a designer come in and design that app and then we simply break down that app into its functional descriptions and some writing. But we just say, hey, the app needs to have a way to log in, the app needs to have a way to retrieve your password, the app needs to show this list of things and we just start kind of listing out all of those things that the app needs to do. We have some developers come and estimate those things to give you an idea of how much effort there is and then we make sure that the client or project manager, product owner is determining priority and then we go work off the list. So what we love to do is just crush a mountain of work and that's kind of the processes, we build up a long list of work and we just start whittling it down with a lot of visibility and a lot ability to give input as you're working and then we collectively, as a team get to see the product come together. It's an extremely fun process. And, you know, there's plenty of opportunity to adjust as you go. If you're hearing from, you know, you can show that to users, hey, would this meet your need and have them come back and give you feedback so you can make adjustments.
00:24:23 - 00:24:34
One of the big problems that you hear about all the time is like cost blowouts that started the software development, you know, given a price of X and becomes three X. So how do you make sure that that doesn't happen?
00:24:35 - 00:27:01
Cost blowouts are a function of a normally what it is, it's either so we always function. So I don't do any fixed cost for that very reason what I wanna do is say, hey, I don't necessarily know every single feature that you're going to want to put in your app or in your project, but I want to partner with you and help you figure it out. So, what I always ask entrepreneurs to do is target their minimum viable product or something that they've clearly heard from a user. I want a thing that does X and then we try to find a viable, that's viable, that minimum viable. The viable is very important. A lot of people overemphasize the minimum, but that viable part is very, very important, you know, premature things don't function very well. So you wanna make sure that it is viable, but you want to meet that need of X and then you want to go get feedback and you want to build from there. A lot of folks just have more of like a construction analogy in their mind, where, hey, I want to build a house. So let's get a plan for the house and let's get the design, you know, the designer involved for the house and all of that. And I wish software were like that because that's so easy for people to understand. But civil engineering and software engineering are like complete opposites from each other. And so I think having that idea of that MVP and then building from there, you know, finding a user that needs X, you meet the need of X, they say, okay, well, now I need it to do a little bit more and you build into demand. That's what software allows you to do and that's how you prevent cost overrun. It would be no different in civil engineering if you said, hey, I want to build a house. Oh, but could you add a bedroom? Could you add a garage? You know, could you make, you know, put a pool in the back? Of course, that's gonna cost overrun. It's just that in software, those changes have to be really tightly monitored. Just in the same way as a construction product has to be project, has to be super tightly monitored as well.
00:27:02 - 00:28:24
Yeah, I think what you mentioned is a minimal viable product and I love the fact that you highlighted viable. So, but yeah, it's true because we all as entrepreneurs quite often think, well, I know exactly what the market wants and then they take something to market, they spend a year or two building it and then the market goes yawn, they get hit in the face by the market. That's why going well, let's just build one thing well, and that's the minimal viable product or service. Let's see if that actually works without blowing up the bank or robbing the reserve bank to actually get it done because as you talked about building a lot of features in two software is going to cost you more money. So, yeah, it's minimal viable product, I think, especially in an age where we can get coding done a lot faster, a lot more efficiently than we're used to and brings up the market. Look, I think I heard one, there was one product that was launched, it was wildly successful for a while, which was only built in a week. So I can't remember the name of it, but that happens a lot more. Now is something that just coded quickly on a weekend or something and then launched a test to see if it actually works.
00:28:25 - 00:31:07
There was in this, early, we kind of well into the SAaS era here. SAaS era, what I mean by that is there's a subscription for everything. As even talking to a buddy who owns treads, it's a subscription to keep clean tires on your car. So now you can pay monthly and then once in a while they come by and rotate your tires or replace, you know, give you a whole new set of tires or whatever. So there's a subscription now for everything we're kind of entering in this subscription as a service era here. We've been in that era for a while. And so I think before that there was this body of knowledge about bootstrapping and in the software world, bootstrapping was this idea of how little effort. So it was more of an emphasis on the minimum. So it might be like, hey, what if I put a white paper together? And I talk about the value of, you know, the value of paying, you know, saving a little money each month for your tires so you don't get hit with this big payment. So I'm gonna put a white paper out about that. See if somebody buys it or, rather than building a fitness app, I'm going to do a workout plan and then, hey, if people buy my workout plan, then maybe I will, but build that fitness app. So, bootstrapping is kind of, you know, it hasn't been a popular term, for a while but, a few years ago that was the super hot stuff. And there were a lot of really cool people talking about how to bootstrap your idea and start with. And it is kind of what you're talking about. It was a lot of, it was a body of knowledge kind of talking about how to test your idea before you invested too much into it. And a lot of people were finding that when they did some of those principles and tested and tried that they could be a lot leaner in terms of how to emerge a new idea. In commerce, we see the similar thing happening with these micro shoppings, right? I don't want to go put a product line together for a whole litany of different fitness apparel, for example. Maybe I just need to be really good at leggings or really good at sports bras or really good at shorts and they just, they go out with that part, nail it, see that they're having success with that part and then they expand their product offering, you know, season after season, little by little. And so we even see the MVP principle being used in commerce.
00:31:07 - 00:31:26
Yeah. I think that's a great example. And I think there was a company that's now a billion dollars, it's called Spandex. Yeah, which was basically a pressure pair of tights as undies. We have a women's lingerie that made them look slimmer in a dress.
00:31:26 - 00:31:30
I think of Spanx.
00:31:31 - 00:32:36
I got close but Spanx exactly. Yeah. So that's all they did which is really a great example of what you're saying, bootstrapping slash just a minimal viable product without building out a whole fitness where range, for example. So you're instead of trying to build something with the old provincial question is, does my bum look big in this sort of question and you know what men's asked that should be so we won't go there.
So, alright. So we're talking about the process, we talk about minimum viable product. So the other thing that entrepreneurs really need to work out is and we talked about it a little bit before in the intro, who's your ideal customer? Because you really need to make sure that you have a ideal customer or do you have an ideal range of customers that you focus on with what you do in software development.
00:32:36 - 00:33:01
Yeah. We usually target somebody between three million and 100 million in revenue. So, I just understanding the size of my business and we do have larger enterprise clients. But I think, you know, for my firm right now that's the sweet spot. It's somewhere between the three million and 100 million range for our services.
00:33:01 - 00:33:06
Okay. Are there any application areas that you specialize in as well? Like e-commerce?
00:33:07 - 00:34:37
No, we haven't, like I said, I mean, we really like crushing mountains of work. So just in our history, we've worked in everything like I've had government clients and I've had e-commerce, apps, social, you know, social media things. We really haven't because the craft of building software is the same across the problem set. So really we've been able to, you know, focus on internet technology and just, you know, make that a core competency. So we have the software development and then we started finding clients that had data just in too many different systems. They needed to bring that together to make more actionable decisions about their data. So we added the data practice and then I, since I was involved in a lot of online media businesses, I was an early, early cloud adopter. So the moment that I could do stuff on AWS Cloud or Microsoft Cloud, I was trying it out and so we also added this DevOps practice. DevOps is also being kind of called platform engineering, which is really just making sure you're getting the full benefit of the cloud for hosting your technology. And we're, we have a practice around that. So we call it DevOps practice.
00:34:37 - 00:35:06
Okay. Cool. So what I'm also very interesting, especially in what we call a post pandemic world where we've seen the rise of remote work is what tools do you guys use that makes life and work easier that you would recommend or and it's gonna be different for every type. So what sort of tools do you use to make your team productive and yourself productive that use company wide?
00:35:07 - 00:36:10
Sure. So you mentioned Slack, I mean, we definitely are Slack users. 100% we’re heavily indexed on the Google Stack for our collaboration tools. We use a lot of Google Docs. The Google Docs are great that sharing component in the Google Docs. I know people sometimes, you know, when it comes to like spreadsheets and Excel, they're very used to that and the transitional like Google sheets, but to be able to sit remotely with your, you know, your friends working on the same presentation document or the same Excel document and you know, each be editing different roads or different slides simultaneously. It's just unmatched in terms of the power of that collaboration. I can get into a little bit more of the software tool process, but essentially we need an online list of work. So it could be Asana. There's a whole litany of these project management tools.
00:36:10 - 00:36:13
Project management tools, Trello for example, another one.
00:36:13 - 00:38:37
Trello, yeah, perfect. But you got to have a list of work and everybody needs to know where they're getting work from. You can't have this project management tool, but this spreadsheet over here or it needs to be one flow of work that's very, very important. And I'm also seeing that for remote development teams and remote development companies, leaders have an interesting responsibility. Leaders need to be at least four weeks, one working month ahead of their teams in terms of what we're gonna work on. This is, I just, I'm running into this constantly where companies are spoon feeding their remote teams and it's just killing their productivity. And what we've been finding is that if you will get two weeks at a minimum, but four weeks is more ideal ahead of your team saying, hey, this is what we're gonna work on, this is what's coming up, you know, people who need to do the thinking about that work at the design or the business requirements, they need to already be ahead working on those things. So that you're staying ahead of your workforce and if leaders don't do that, they're not getting the benefits and it's like a, it's a seesaw. If you're not ahead of your teams, then remote work is going to be a detractor for you. But if you are ahead of your teams, you're going to get that commute and you know, the things that they were that your teammates were having to do, commute to work, go get food somewhere, you know, all of those things that they would naturally do. And of course, I encourage people to still do those things to take a break once in a while. But if you are ahead of folks, and they're not waiting for the understanding around the work, you'll really see everybody, you know, just able to grind it out and crush mountains of work and leaders have a huge responsibility to, to enable that. So yeah, we've seen a big shift there where planning ahead and being visionary is super important because you're sitting at home and you're wondering, you have a question for your boss. You got to schedule a call with your boss, you gotta go, you know, get them on the phone and that is a time killer. That's a huge time kill.
00:38:37 - 00:39:25
And the other thing I think that I've experienced and interested in your thoughts is that you've basically gonna make sure as the CEO Founder to make sure that you provide the tools and resources and then get out of the way so you're not a distraction. In other words, your job, quite often, your teams look after the customer, your job is to look after your team. Then it's, but the other thing too is that I've got to be, I've been very aware, I come up with a great idea and then I mention it and everyone thinks that's a new project. So you got to make sure that you're not constantly distracting your team because you've got ideas as an entrepreneur.
00:39:25 - 00:42:25
Yeah, I think we're right in that same wavelength of what I'm practically and literally talking about is that the list of to do’s. And I'm not trying to micromanage my team. I'm definitely setting goals and I want them to work on preparing that list of two do’s collectively and so, no, it's not. Don't hear me and think I'm, I'm sitting here writing a checklist for all my teammates. I want to create an environment where the checklist is prepared enough, but it's, it's well out in front of the team, whoever like the collective is preparing that work stream, but that the work stream is mature and the work stream is healthy and the work stream is ahead of where we need to be. And then, yes, I'm expecting that folks are able to grind on that and that's extremely essential. And then, you know, setting that framework of cadence of how are we going to meet and how are we going to keep that healthy? That's kind of fundamental to remote work. And I think if you're doing that, then you'll see the benefits of this remote working situation. We were remote before COVID in the US. We've since gone remote globally. And so there was a destination, but I, what I'm finding interesting postcode is even the sales process. You say, hey, I want to come see you like, well, you know, your client in New York is like, I want to come see, you want to do some face time, you know, I essentially want to build our relationship because it's in my best interest to do that. And he's like, what do you mean? I gotta drive in from Connecticut to go to the office. Why don't you just show me, you know, so, something I'm trying this year is to ask my clients, hey, when are you guys getting together? How are you dealing with remote work? Do you have an, you know, is there a plan to bring folks into a central location? And can I do a happy hour? Can I be a part of that in some way? Because I think we're trying to adapt to how do we get people together. In fact, this week, all the US folks are coming together in San Diego to have just a weekend to facetime. And I think I love my people, you know, I love my company and I wanna spend time with people face to face and we're just having to do, we're having to be imaginative and I think office budgets will turn into offsite budgets. And so you'll do that corporate retreat or you'll do that corporate off site rather than maybe maintain as big or as much of an office. And I think that transition is happening.
00:42:25 - 00:44:09
Yeah, that's a really good idea of how we're trying to deal with this new future of work. And I think we've got to work out what's important and essential and important doesn't mean urgent. In other words, I won't have a meeting with you, no, so and clients might pull you up and I'm more reticent to go and do face to face. Not that I ever really do it because I'm basically been remote ever since I started. And then we've got tools now that just make it so easy. We're recording this on Zoom. It turns into two audio files you and me, which can be added separately, it records it in the HD. It automatically downloads and puts it into a folder for me, then I will have to do is load it up for my team, put it into Trello via a Google doc, where upload leading video file on the audio file and then the process looks after itself and that brings up the next topic just to wrap things up is I think as entrepreneurs, we quite often you may be different because you're detailed and very process driven by the sounds of it. I'm a little bit wilder at the edges really. So I had to fall in love with processes and systems for us to control what we do because you're a zen gardener and I really like that term actually. So what, how important entrepreneurs really need to understand this, how important for you are systems and processes for maintaining control, also preserving sanity?
00:44:10 - 00:46:58
I mean, I think it's super important. I think earlier, like late last year, instead of keeping a separate task list, I had to make a personal decision to use my calendar instead. So not that I would do something but when I intended to do it and that was like a little click. That's a difference in the system, right? There's nothing really wrong with my task list. I was good at keeping those notes, you know, nothing was falling through the cracks, but I just found that, you know, to take that transition and say, okay, I'm not going to put this to do on here and then have to go back to it or maybe even interrupt myself to do it. Instead, I'm going to put it on my calendar when I'm going to do it. And that was a huge shift. I think we can always look for if we think of our habits, our habits are a system and, you know, our daily habits are a form of a system. And so any efficiency we can gain from that makes us a better entrepreneur, makes us a better business leader. Another thing was, what's the value of a one on one, right? If I'm having a bunch of one on ones with a bunch of my teammates, is that the best way for me to spend my time or is that creating, you know, is that creating an inefficiency? So just questioning, like it's a very natural thing, right? I have five people on my team, you know, maybe you're a small entrepreneur just getting started, you have, you know, five different people you're working with, you plan five different meetings each week, you think, hey, this is great. I would argue that one meeting with all five people if that is possible. And, you know, people are thinking about different scenarios in their mind as I say that, but is that possible? Would that change your system? And are there things being said or decided on in these, you know, back when I was early in my career, I had a bad, you know, cigarette habit and, you know, then I quit and I realized, man, those were the good conversations out there with the other smokers and we made all these decisions. And then we came in and we told the non smokers what to do when I joined the non smokers. I was like, hey, why are you guys having those side meetings? We need to include the other teammates and so you can consider things like that. So just, you know, just consider everything, everything is a system.
00:46:58 - 00:47:42
Yeah, and I think the other thing that you mentioned, which is really cool and reflecting on it was you're going well, instead of a priority task list, you actually go, well, let's just put it straight into calendar with it to be done by 10 AM Tuesday, the 17th of March, whatever it is, that's great. It just shows up with an alert, maybe two alerts and you're going, you don't have to think about it. Cognitive energy is actually preserved. It just reminds you, I've almost saved my relationship because I have an alert on calendar for putting the bins out, right?
00:47:42 - 00:47:46
Yeah, the bins out. That is a calendar item. You got it.
00:47:46 - 00:48:09
Yeah. And then there's the other ones, birthday reminders. People, they know that you've been alerted by something, whether it's Facebook or whether it's, you know, a calendar alert. But if you remember to call or send a message on someone's birthday, you basically build relationships and it's really quite good.
00:48:09 - 00:49:49
Yeah, I will say if anybody listens to this and they want to, maybe a potential idea. I find the, you know, I find email to be one of the worst communication mediums that exists. And I think as we're talking about AI there is so much opportunity to improve this exchange of information, email protocol, this inbox thing. I don't think that's the problem. But I'll just give you one specific example. Calendly is a nice tool for saying, hey, you know, you want to meet with me, here's a link, select the time and we'll meet, right? It's a way of sharing my available times, but it's somewhat rude, especially if you really want to meet with a person. You can't say, hey, meet with me and oh select your own time. You gotta be careful about that. There's a, there could be a potential rudeness there where they say, hey, I want to meet okay, go book your own time. What I prefer to do, but it takes more time is a winner sometimes that you're free and you have this discussion. I would love an AI to do that. That would facilitate that, hey, that virtual assistant that finding a time, I'd love for that AI to be smart enough to know, hey, he has like three whole hours that are not booked. Why don't we put something in the middle of that? Or say, hey, I want it tighter, you know, along so I can just do all my meetings in one go and then have more free time.
00:49:49 - 00:49:51
Yeah, that should, yeah.
00:49:51 - 00:50:13
Back to, but I think there's a lot of opportunities with AI coming up to eliminate email. And I just see, you know, as I'm frustrated that there's still so much spam and so much unauthorized communication through email. I think that's still an area ripe for improvement.
00:50:13 - 00:50:18
Yeah. Well, [inaudible] was to basically make email irrelevant. That's what their goal was.
00:50:18 - 00:50:32
And for the most part, it has done that. For the most part it is done that for internal communication, I just, I want to see that external communication also improved.
00:50:33 - 00:51:53
The other challenge we have in this 24/7 global world is that we all operate on different timeframes. So Calendly integrated with Zoom has been a lifesaver for me in terms of I'm not dictating to you or when I send a link to you, for example, that goes okay, then choose a time that suits you. But these are the times that these are the parameters because you're in America, I'm in Australia. So and then it creates a link which we're using right here right now on Zoom, which is created by accepting or creating a time. So it's because I meet basically, most of my appointments are either in Europe or in the USA, for example. So, but the technology has made it so much easier and I never cease to be amazed by the continuing evolution of software, apps that makes life easier. And now we're about to experience what AI is going to do to either confuse us more or will make it simpler. And I think the latter is maybe what's going to happen. So, any good technology that works almost becomes invisible.
00:51:54 - 00:52:06
Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah. Like the complexity of Uber, DoorDash or whatever and the technology really has become invisible. You just request the driver and the driver shows up.
00:52:07 - 00:52:46
And you don't need to know about the machine working away in the background as long as it works. And we've got to think, you know, the very smart zen gardeners of software such as yourself that make that happen. So any last tips as an entrepreneur that you've learned along the way, one tip, two tips, whatever that you can, that are really important to you as an entrepreneur that you've learned along the way that would help other entrepreneurs that are struggling need to be inspired and need a top tip or two.
00:52:47 - 00:53:41
You know, you can't get time back. So, you know, go play with your kids, go say hi to your wife. The problem that you're trying to solve will still be there tomorrow like it's not going anywhere. And so I think it's just, it's about relationships with your, you know, and with your support system and so just, you know, value that. I think that's really, that's part of it to, like, take them on the journey with you. We kind of celebrate this grinding. I certainly do but you also, you know, take your kids to the park. It's not gonna go anywhere, the problems that you're trying to accomplish, you're not gonna go anywhere and may have a wonderful idea while you're pushing your kid on the swing or something.
00:53:41 - 00:54:21
Yeah, I'm very fond of the Fijian culture and they have a saying which is what can't be done today can be done tomorrow. And they tend to live a very, very joyful life, maybe one of the most joyful cultures on the planet because they've learned to do things that matter and are important rather than just being this productive zen warrior that is being driven by a media like news cycle or I have to do this but hastening slowly is an art. I think we need to continue to work on and you've just mentioned that which is great to hear.
00:54:22 - 00:55:20
Yeah, I mean, I think we are so easily captivated by this digital world, right? We have very addictive short videos that just watch all day long if we wanted to, very stimulating to the mind but not beneficial to our relationships. And so that's a, that's just something fresh on my mind that the value of screen time is minimal and very fleeting but, you know, being able to spend time with your family and build those relationships. I don't think anyone has ever die since, I wish I had watched youtube more or, you know, I just don't think that happens. It's always gonna be, man, I didn't focus on our relationships enough. And so, yeah, I think that's the tidbit, the business stuff will happen, as we're consistent but the relationship stuff needs attention too.
00:55:20 - 00:55:26
So what you really said, love is the answer.
00:55:26 - 00:55:27
Yeah. Perfect weapon, right.
00:55:27 - 00:55:54
Exactly. Ben, it's been an absolute pleasure buddy to have a chat and wrap it up with some insights about how to live a better life and also be a good business person. And thank you very much. It's been an absolute joy to chat to you and look forward to catching up with you in real life one day if that ever happens. But our paths intersect and a real face to face.
00:55:54 - 00:56:00
You know I don't think I've ever had a vegemite sandwich so I would like to have one of those sometimes, you know, with the fosters.
00:56:01 - 00:56:56
Right. Okay. So they don't necessarily go together, but they can, yeah, it may be mutually exclusive. Vegemite sandwich is more the morning thing. You could have it with a beer in the morning or you could have a vegemite sandwich with a beer in the evening. But, yeah, it's a vegemite sandwich is something that is very much an acquired taste and is very Australian and also very good if you had maybe too many beers the night before actually, that's how they work together. It's sort of like a hangover remedy. I don't know if it works, but it seems to be, a vegemite sandwich seems to cry out to you the next morning if you've had a few drinks the night before.
00:56:57 - 00:57:01
I see. Alright. Well, thank you so much for having me. It's been fun to chat.
00:57:01 - 00:57:04
It has been fun. Thank you very much, Ben.
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